It's not that Durham's Wailin Storms never lived up to its name. The Bone Colored Moon and Shiver EPs were moody but spare, producing not torrents of sound but acting, in hindsight, as billowing thunderheads signaling the coming storm. The band hit full cyclogenesis on 2015's One Foot in the Flesh Grave; frontman Justin Storms expanded Wailin Storms into a proper quartet, with drummer Mark Oates, lead guitarist Todd Warner, and bassist Steve Stanczyk giving his songs the heft they required. But on Sick City, the quartet's second full-length record, Wailin Storms embodies its howling, ominous moniker.
Where One Foot in the Flesh Grave was a severe tropical storm, Sick City is a full-tilt, Category 4 noise-rock squall. Snare drums clap like hurricane shutters on "Foot of My Tongue" and "Night of Long Nights" as distorted guitar lines whip by in violent gales. The seething, pulsing bass intro of "Hurricane Trash Wave" gives way to devastating crescendos that punch you off your feet. Unhinged howls in "Clean Shirt" flash like lightning bolts as a fusillade of reverb-drenched guitar chords pound like a cataract of rushing rain.
Saying Wailin Storms wears its influences on its sleeve is obvious: The band's always owed more than a passing glance to The Gun Club and The Birthday Party; its bleak misanthropy and imposing histrionics recall Swans; its spacious song structures and sparse, cavernous textures bring to mind Young Widows. But on Sick City, Wailin Storms offers a more confident presentation of those contrasting influences.
Consider "Irene Garza," a true-crime song about the rape and murder of a Tejana beauty queen that rages between manic and maniacal. "You wear a crooked cross/You have no fucking heart," Storms moans at the outset of the song before the band lurches forward. "I can't see/I can't breathe," he gasps in the first half of the song's creeping chorus, capturing the grisly panic Garza must have felt as she was being suffocated to death after being sexually assaulted.
It's an afflicted, punishing Southern gothic post-punk song—the band's best to date, and one perfect for its moodiest and most engaging work.